Severe Weather Awareness Week: Storm Basics & Safety

The Weather Authority
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Alabama’s 2019 Severe Weather Awareness Week has arrived, and as always we’re going to break down a topic on severe weather every day to help you prepare for the upcoming season. This year, we’ll start on Monday with some severe storm basics and safety.

What makes a storm severe? A storm is considered “severe” by meteorologists if it produces any of the following:

  • Wind gusts of 50 knots (58 mph) or greater
  • Hail that is 1 inch in diameter (approximately the size of a U.S. quarter)
  • Tornado(es)

This criteria roughly meets the limits of when a storm becomes damaging or a serious threat to safety.

You might notice that lightning is not within that list. That’s because, although lightning is a serious threat, the very definition of a thunderstorm includes producing lightning. If lightning were within the criteria for a severe storm, every storm would be considered severe and we would no longer have criteria for distinguishing more dangerous storms.

Microburst dropping rain over south Huntsville shortly after 6pm Monday, August 1, 2016.

Watches vs Warnings: Severe thunderstorm alerts come in two forms: a severe thunderstorm WATCH and a severe thunderstorm WARNING. Essentially, a watch means severe storms are possible and a warning means that severe storms are already occurring.

During a severe thunderstorm watch you should monitor conditions and be prepared to head to safety in the event that a warning is issued. Watches can be issued hours in advance of anticipated severe weather, in hopes that it will give you time to prepare for when storms arrive.

During a severe thunderstorm warning you should seek shelter immediately. You should have a designated safe place already determined to go to during severe weather. This safe place should be indoors, away from windows, and on the lowest floor of whatever building you’re in. It’s also a good idea to have a safety-kit stored in your safe place, so it’s already there for you when you need it.

How To Pack A Safety Kit: Putting together a safety kit is a very easy way to prepare for severe weather. Take care of your safety kit this week and put one in your home, your office, and your car. Once this is done, it will greatly reduce your preparations any time severe weather is expected in the future!

We’ve compiled a list of items you should prepare below:

For Your Home:

  • Water (one gallon of water per person for at least 3 days)
  • Food (a 3 day supply of non-perishable food for each person in your family)
  • Can openers and utensils
  •  Weather Radio
  • First aid kit
  • Blankets/jackets (they keep you warm in the winter, and they protect you from potentially dangerous debris during spring/summer/fall thunderstorms)
  • An extra pair of sturdy shoes (in case there’s debris left behind after the storm)
  • Sanitation items (soap, moist towelettes, hand sanitizer gel)
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Special needs items for your family:

Emergency safety kit for the car:

  • Jackets/blankets
  • Sturdy shoes or boots
  • Water
  • Non-Perishable Food
  • Portable Phone Charger

For an extensive list of items to keep in a safety kit, as well as storage solutions, be sure to check out this resource from

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